Kona Coffee Council

Naturally High Quality and Extra Care Results in a Gourmet Coffee

Most Kona coffee is graded Prime or better because of the climate, the careful hand-cultivation, and the wet-method processing used throughout the region.

Like fine vintage wines, 100% Kona coffee is distinguished from commercial blends by the tremendous extra care taken throughout every step of the process. The end result is a coffee that carries the unique stamp of the Kona region - delicate yet flavorful and with a rich aroma - a product that is famous among coffee drinking societies throughout the world. This excellent quality has made Kona coffee one of the most highly valued coffees in the world.

  • The Kona Region and its Ideal Climate - Grown on the mountain slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes - Tropical sun-drenched mornings and misty afternoons
  • The Care We Take with this Rare Commodity - Hand-picked - the pride of work of approximately 600 farms.
  • Our Special Processing - Wet-method processing and sun-drying insure a certified gourmet product
  • Our History and Culture - From the early Polynesian settlers to the unique blend of peoples that have fashioned Kona's renaissance farmers
  • The Terminology - How we describe Kona Coffee from cherry to roast

Grown only in Kona

Kona is the very special coffee grown on the dark volcanic lava rock slopes of Kona, with enviable consistent quality. Kona coffee is a deliciously rich, medium-bodied and slightly acidic coffee with a heady aroma and complex, winey, spicy taste.

Kona, on the west coast of Hawai'i island (also known as The Big Island), has produced coffee continuously since the early 1800's. The Kona name only applies to beans grown in North and South Kona, and coffee that is grown elsewhere in Hawai'i cannot be called Kona coffee.

The Perfect Climate

Coffee requires a very specific combination of sun, soil, and water. It is successfully grown in only a limited number of locations round the world. The magical diurnal cycle of bright sunny mornings, humid rainy afternoons, and mild nights create perfect growing conditions for exotic plants to flourish. The trees thrive on the volcanic rocky land, and mild frost-free temperatures.

Small Independent Farms

The Kona region contains approximately 600 independent coffee farms. Most are small, usually three to seven acres in size. Traditionally, as with most farms, they are a family concern. In 1997 the total Kona coffee acreage was 2290 acres and green coffee production just over two million pounds.

Hand-Picked, Meticulously Cultivated

Coffee cultivation is more labor intensive in Kona than in most other regions.

From late August to late January, the Kona coffee farmer is singularly focused on bringing in the ripe red coffee cherry, processing the cherry into coffee beans, and preparing for the sale or storage of their coffee. Hand-picking is a meticulous process than insures that only cherries at peak maturity are harvested. Since the cherries do not ripen at the same time, each tree will be picked several times throughout the season.

Pride of Production

Many Kona coffee farmers sell the fresh coffee cherry to Kona processors, but there is a recent trend to take an individual farm's coffee further along the process, selling at the parchment level, the green, and the roasted levels. There are more than 100 private labels for Kona coffee.

Wet-Method Processed - Sun-Dried

Coffee cherry is pulped to remove the outer flesh, carefully fermented, which helps give the coffee its characteristic bright, clear flavor, and thoroughly washed in clean water. Most coffee is then naturally sun-dried on large decks (hoshidanas), and raked regularly to give even drying.

Graded to Department of Agriculture Standards

The dry beans are machine milled to remove the parchment and silverskin, and the resulting green beans sorted and graded. The green beans may be sold to roasters, or custom-roasted by the farmer or processor to produce a unique coffee.

The Kona History

The first settlers in Hawai'i arrived in approximately 300-400 AD, probably from the Marquesas Islands. They brought with them taro, ti, sugarcane, ginger, gourd, yams, bamboo, turmeric, arrowroot, and the breadfruit tree. They also brought small pigs, dogs, jungle fowl, and probably rats as stowaways. Many of these new species overpowered the native plants and animals, especially birds. They established a rigid and controlled society, rich in oral and music traditions, although lacking in written language. Hereditary chiefs held blocks of land, and their people paid taxes to their chief (crops or catch) and served for them as soldiers. Strict laws defined what was forbidden and governed the conduct of the various levels of society. There were many wars between the chiefs. Religion consisted of the worship of many gods and goddesses, representing war, life, death, harvest, etc.

The Europeans arrived by accident while searching for the fabled Northwest Passage, a hoped-for new spice route to the Orient. James Cook, an English Sea Captain, reached Kauai in January 1778, replenished his ship, and returned in early 1779 after being forced back by winter storms, to anchor in Kealakekua Bay, Kona. Hawai'i became an important stopping place on one of the world's major trading routes. The Hawaiian chiefs traded sandalwood for foreign weapons and goods, including cattle, goats, and pigs which rapidly over-ran the island destroying the ground cover.

The Missionary Era started around 1820 and their religious beliefs quickly overcame the old system of kapu. Many of the churches they established still exist today.

Coffee Plantations - Coffee was first brought to Kona by Samuel Reverend Ruggles from cuttings from Brazil, although it was not until much later in that century that it became a consistent and worthwhile crop. It was grown on large plantations, but the crash in the world coffee market in 1899 caused plantation owners to have to lease out their land to their workers. Most of these workers were originally from Japan, and they worked their leased land parcels of between 5 and 12 acres as family concerns, producing large, quality coffee crops.

Family Farms - The tradition of running family farms has continued throughout Kona. The Japanese-origin families have been joined by Filipinos, mainland Americans, and Europeans - all of who strive to keep their farms productive, their crops as perfect as can be, and their family lifestyle serene. This family orientation has produced a close sense of community, with care and compassion to spare, and a friendly welcome for all who come to visit.

Kona Coffee from Cherry to Roast - Learning the Terms

Kona Snow White sweet-smelling blossoms that cover the trees at intervals from January through May.
Cherry The fruit of the coffee tree, starts as green berries, turning through yellow to orange and picked when deep red.
Bean The two flat seeds formed within the normal cherry - Type I.
Peaberry When coffee cherries produce only one round seed instead - Type II of two flat ones.
Pulping Separating the beans from the outer red skin.
Processing (wet-method) The beans are fermented from 12-24 hours,and then washed in fresh water.
Drying The washed beans are laid out on decks and sun-dried to a moisture level between 9-12.2%. Some mechanical drying may be used, but most Kona beans are sun-dried.
Parchment The dried seeds covered with a stiff white skin, called parchment.
Milling Removal of stiff parchment skin and the thin silverskin below it.
Green Coffee beans milled and ready for roasting.
Roast Cooking the green coffee to the desired taste.

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